Meet Jo Watkins and family

September 15, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Meet WSE Members

Tell me a little about your family and who you travel with

We are a family of 6 from South Wales in the UK. Dave and Jo with our kids Polly 10, Jinks 8, Tom 4 and Meg 2. We have just left the UK for a year of adventure, travel, house swapping and world schooling. This has been a long time theorised, talked about, planned but eventually, we have left on our travels.

We both loved to travel in our life pre-family. We always talked about spending a few years living and working abroad once the kids were at the ‘right’ age. As time went on and the kids went from babies to toddlers to school in the blink of an eye we realised there was no such thing as the right age to travel with kids. There is never a time when all the ducks are all lined up, as a fellow travelling world schooler described it to me. There are always hurdles to get over. Whether they ben employment, financial, schooling, family, there is always something stopping you going or making you leave it until next year…

Do you travel full-time? How do you educate your children?

We have taken our kids out of the education system in the UK for a year. Prior to this we have not home schooled. We are lucky enough to live in a wonderful area in South Wales with good schools and there are not many people around us who home school.

As we were planning this trip that was our main concern. We were worried as to whether we would be able to do as good a job at teaching our kids as formal education and we are mindful of the fact they are going to be going back into education at the end of it (although we are always keeping our options open!) We don’t want them to suffer because of our decision to travel.

The school was incredibly supportive and gave us ideas for resources to use. We have been incorporating learning into what we do and see. I have a small notebook I take everywhere with us and jot down anything that comes up whether it be wandering around Botanical Gardens seeing giant bamboo or looking for prime numbers on a menu over lunch. That way we have a reference point to look back at when wanting to expand on areas in further detail in our own time.

We have a 2 yr old as well who still has regular naps so when we are in one place for a period of time we use nap times to do some more formal work (like a Maths subject) then we can all enjoy the rest of the day together. The bigger kids are going to be keeping journals, writing stories, uploading photos and doing video diaries. We are going to have to insist they read regularly too as they are not avid readers so would always choose to do something else.

They are socially interacting every day with people we meet, learning to make friends quickly and communicating outside of their comfort zones. It is hard to say how things will go in time as we are only 3 wks into a long trip but we have realistic expectations and have involved the kids in the planning which I think is integral to everyone making the most of any learning experiences on the way.



What are your main reasons to house swap and which has been your favourite?

We absolutely love house swapping. Long before our first official swap in 2007 we let friends stay in our house when we were away. We live in a beautiful place and we appreciate it every day. We discovered house swapping websites by accident when we were looking for somewhere to stay in Tofino, Vancouver Island. We were so lucky in that we found exactly what we looking for and they loved staying at our place. Since then we have swapped as much as possible.

We have been to France, London, other swaps in UK and Canada. We are a member of 2 different house swapping sites as well as World Schooler Exchange. This year-long trip involves a combination of simultaneous, non-simultaneous and contacts via WSE. We have 8 swaps organised already in Australia and New Zealand. We love having a home from home and a kitchen.. with 4 kids you need space. Hotel rooms just don’t give us enough space!

Our favourite swap to date has to be a wonderful cabin on Bowen Island off Vancouver. It was incredible with an infinity pool with views over the straits.

How far in advance to do you organise your travels?

I have to confess to being a bit of a pathological planner. I am always thinking a year ahead to the next trip or the next swap.

I have had a mixture of responses. Some people love planning that far ahead and actually, you end up getting opportunities that you wouldn’t get if you left things last minute. On the other hand, if you are using a points system (as in LoveHomeSwap which charges an annual fee) it can be more of a last minute thing as there are lots of second homes that people prefer to swap last minute.

I will always plan ahead in terms of dates and flights (we use BA air miles to reduce flight costs) but the micromanagement of the trip is more flexible and spontaneous.

How much money do you reckon you have saved on travel accommodation by swapping homes?

Thousands. Each time we are saving on accommodation which can be very expensive with four kids!

The place in Bowen Island would’ve been so much more than our holiday budget would’ve allowed! You can’t quantify the added bonuses as well. It is like having a friend in a foreign place when you house swap. All the top tips of places to go and things to do that you don’t get in a guide book. We have been offered introductions to local friends with similar aged kids as well as local babysitters!

Best swapping tip?

Be proactive. Just ask. You never know what other people want.

You may think that no one would want to stay in your house or go to your area but you don’t know unless you ask. What’s the worst that could happen?  Someone says no or doesn’t reply. Join up and send lots of messages. Be open-minded to the possibilities and flexible to the locations. If you are looking for a 4 bedroomed place with a pool in a specific village in France you might struggle but if you look for the right sized place but open up your search area you might get an offer from somewhere in Spain or a different area in France that you hadn’t considered before.

Tell me what you do in preparation for your swapper staying in your home? Do you clear a wardrobe for their clothes? Put your valuables away for safe keeping? Do you worry about your own home while you are in someone else’s?

We have a big cupboard with a lock on it. We put valuables, documents and our computer in there. We clear space in the wardrobe and a couple of drawers usually but we have a conversation with the swappers about that. Some people say they are happy to live out of their bags. We don’t worry about our stuff at all. We also rent our house out during the peak summer months when we have strangers in there so having swappers is much nicer than that!

So, where to next? Any more swaps planned?

We are in Sri Lanka at the moment and then moving onto Singapore later this week. We had to get a hotel (on our points from Amex credit card) as we couldn’t find a suitable swap, in fact we struggled to find swaps in South East Asia but luckily accommodation is not that expensive.

We then fly to Australia have a swap in Exmouth, WA and one in Perth. We are then staying with friends in Sydney and Melbourne before starting a 6 week trip in New Zealand. Here we have swaps in both the South and North Island. We have found the Kiwis and the Aussies are wonderfully responsive to swapping and very keen to come to Europe.  We are learning every day and adapting to being together 24/7 but so far we are loving it!

We are blogging on Bendylegs Travel and managing two properties back home that we are swapping and renting for income. Special rates for WSE families that may be interested in rental if a swap isn’t suitable contact me on


Want to swap with Jo?  Here property can be found here – World Schooler Exchange